The feel-good story of the year is taking a bit of nasty turn with Asian stereotyping beginning to appear in media coverage of New York Knicks star guard Jeremy Lin, the NBA's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
CNBC's Darren Rovell got the ball rolling Wednesday night by questioning why MSG Network showed Lin's face above a fortune cookie during coverage of the Knicks' victory against the Sacramento Kings, with the words, "The Knicks good fortune."
Tweeted Rovell: "MSG walking a fine line with this Lin fortune cookie graphic tonight."
MSG put out a statement Thursday saying it had nothing to do with the image: "What appeared briefly last night was not an MSG graphic, it was one of many fan signs in the arena."
The network declined to comment on why it telecast the image.
Rovell corrected himself on Twitter on Thursday.
It's a "tough call" whether MSG should, or could, be faulted for showing a fortune cookie sign created by a fan to TV viewers, says Andrew Kang, senior staff attorney at the Asian-American Institute in Chicago.
"I would prefer maybe they didn't show that — although I could imagine people finding it humorous. But I think it does go to what people think when they think of Asians. They think of food. Because that is really their only point of contact, or awareness, with the Asian-American community."
The New York Post also took criticism for using the headline, "Amasian," after Lin drilled a game-clinching three-pointer for the win against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
During CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central mocked the headline, according to SportsBusiness Daily.
Stewart told Letterman: "It'd be like when Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game, you just wrote on there 'JEWTIFUL!' … I feel like it's very 'Lin-sensitive.'"
Boxer Floyd Mayweather caused headlines earlier in the week by saying Lin is only getting a lot of attention "because he's Asian."
Columnist Jason Whitlock embarrassed Fox Sports with a tweet about Lin playing off Asian stereotypes. On that, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) sent a letter to Whitlock that read, in part:
"The attempt at humor — and we hope that is all it was — fell flat. It also exposed how some media companies fail to adequately monitor the antics of their high-profile representatives. Standards need to be applied — by you and by Fox Sports.
"The offensive tweet debased one of sports' feel-good moments, not just among Asian Americans but for so many others who are part of your audience.
"Where do we go from here? How about an apology, Mr. Whitlock."
Whitlock apologized, and the AAJA thanked him for that.
The sophomoric, sexual stereotype was "completely out-of-line," Kang says. It was also "misogynistic" — so he's not sure who the columnist offended more: Asians or women.
"There's this idea that it's OK to stereotype Asians — just don't with African-Americans or Latinos because you'll get in trouble and you'll get an aggressive response," Kang says. "But somehow it's OK to do that to the Asian-American community. …
"In some ways, I'm grateful that it is coming out so we can talk about it and people can really start to challenge what are their pre-conceived notions about the Asian-American community or Asian-American athletes."
But Kang also sees "soft" racism in media debates about why Lin went unnoticed for so long by the basketball establishment and why he's setting the NBA on fire now.
"You hear endless debates about: 'How can this be happening? How can he be doing so well?'" Kang says.
"The very simple answer is he's very talented, he was overlooked by scouts or they missed that one. What they really mean is: 'How can an Asian-American be doing so well in the NBA?'
"I think they're looking for answers other than he's athletically gifted," Kang says. "They're trying to attribute it to (Knicks coach) Mike D'Antoni's system, (All-Star forward) Carmelo Anthony's not around. So somebody has to put up the shots. They're trying to figure out how can this Asian-American be such a playmaker — and why didn't anyone else notice him earlier."